Saturday, September 18, 2010

Day 1: Staunton, VA to Lebanon, TN

Now that I'm settled on Catalina Island, I think it's about time that I tell you my travel stories. Some days will have longer entries than others, but there will be an entry for each day.

Day 1
Wednesday the 8th.
484 miles from Staunton, VA to Lebanon, TN.

I didn't sleep well the night before. I wasn't really sure when my mom would get into town, and I felt like there were a thousand things I was still forgetting. Consequently, I started the day tired and understandbly emo about driving away. Jer and I had breakfast, packed up the last of my things, and loaded the car before Mom got in at 9 am-ish. Since she took a red-eye, she napped while Jer and I got gas, checked tire pressure, etc.

11 am rolled around and Mom wanted to get out of town. I will save you all the scene that got me out of my apartment and on the road, both because I don't want to kill any chance of this post being funny and because I've no desire to retell it. At any rate, Mom and I were in the car and, after brief stops at Split Banana and MugShots for gelato and coffee, on the road by noon.

I had already driven south on I-81 before, so the scenery wasn't exactly interesting to me until a few hours into the drive. Instead, I distracted myself with music (7 days of music on my iPod put on shuffle) and asking my mom questions out of the Would You Rather? books. They are excellent methods of in-car distraction, btw. About the time that the scenery got interesting, I realized that my giant goodbye latte had a metric fuckton of caffeine and that the caffeine was taking over my bloodstream. Caffeine is an even better in-car distraction than music or Would You Rather? books.

Suddenly, every topic of conversation was awesome and most jokes were taken too far. This led to a discussion about Catholic communion wafer. I'm not Catholic. My mom used to be, though, so she knew what it tasted like. This led to a bunch of jokes about the "melt in your mouth, not in your hand" nature of the body of Christ which were made far more hilarious by the caffeine and my desperation for a good laugh. Yeah, I'm going to Hell if it exists, and to those of you that are Christian, I promise there are no more Jesus jokes in this post. You can keep reading.

Either the Welcome to Tennessee sign is really small or it doesn't exist. Either way, we had no clue we had crossed the border into a new state until at least 30 miles into Tennessee. It's a pretty state with leaves that are already changing color for Fall. The only drawback to the forest is that it's getting totally swallowed by Kudzu, which is pretty much evil in plant form. Not that Kudzu isn't kind of pretty, it just destroys natural plant life underneath the pretty. Seriously, do an image search. That stuff is crazy. Actually, you don't need to search. Here's a picture of what used to be a house (not taken by me).

Seriously, that was a house! A frakking house!

Knoxville was the only big city we went through on day 1. Things I learned: Knoxville is really dirty, they love strip clubs, they love 24-hour "adult superstores," and they love fireworks. Next to the freeway, we saw 3 strip club signs and at least that many adult stores, one of which claimed to be the "Largest Adult Superstore in the South." By far my favorite roadside Knoxville sight was a neon sign shared by two businesses: Romano's Macaroni Grill and a "gentleman's club." I was amazed. I mean, Macaroni Grill is a national, family-oriented chain. I guess franchises can do whatever they please with their signage.

As we left Knoxville, the adult superstores decreased and the firework emporiums increased. Apparently, explosions are better than nudity in West Tennessee. This part of the state is very pretty, except for the giant freaking nuclear plant that kind of distracts from the pretty and adds an ominous feel to a chunk of the state. Maybe that's why they like fireworks. All the little explosions are a preparation for the nuclear holocaust they're expecting.

We put some distance between us and the nuclear plant, stopping for the night in Lebanon at a Hampton Inn and Suites. By then, I was exhausted emotionally and physically and was very happy to see an Outback Steakhouse next to the hotel. Hunk of beef + vodka = happy Kitty. When we got back to the hotel, they had really good chocolate chip cookies which made a great before bed snack.

So, that was pretty much Day 1. Day 2 gets us to Texas and a story about Titus county, super fast cows, and stupid alcohol laws. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Leaving Staunton

I leave Staunton, Virginia in roughly 24 hours. This is surreal. It shouldn't be. I'm 90% packed. I closed my bank account. Theoretically, the surreal phase should be gone, but nope. Still feels like tomorrow isn't leaving day.

In honor of leaving this town, I thought I'd just write a quick post listing things I will and will not miss about it.

I will not miss:
1) Rednecks.
2) Evangelical Christians who blindly ignore Matthew 7.1 and think Halloween is Satan's holiday. (Satan is a Christian construct. Pagans made All Hallow's Eve. Candy companies took it over. If you want to hate Halloween, you need to start blaming Pagans or boycotting Mars and Nestle.)
3) Humidity.
4) Bugs that apparently find me delicious.
5) One-way streets.
6) Going to the ABC store for liquor.
7) Finding parking on Sunday mornings. (There are 4 churches within 2 blocks of my apartment.)
8) The undergrad upstairs who can't do laundry without a threat from the landlord.
9) Virginia labor laws.
10) Young, Republican women who try to convince me that Sarah Palin is good for womankind.
11) People who say the word Obama in the same tone I would use if I had to describe falling into a gushing sewer and having to claw my way out.

Things I will miss:
1) Jer.
2) Friends. (Seriously guys, you know who you are. You rock. I hope I keep running into you forever.)
3) My gerbil.
4) The Split Banana. (Greatest gelato ever.)
5) Blackfriars Playhouse. (How can you not love that space?)
6) All of Professor Cline's stuff down in Lexington.
7) Pufferbellies. (Greatest toy store ever)
8) Biscuits. (Only the South makes them right, and they're the only Southern food I like.)
9) The Easy Shop handsets at Martin's grocery store. (Set your phasers to buy.)
10) The Dragon's Hoard. (I get some serious geek points for this, Shaun. I know.)
11) Awesome stage combat classes with seriously skilled instructors.

Overall, I'm happy to be leaving the South. I don't get this region of the country, and it doesn't get me. That said, the good parts of Staunton are frakking amazing, and I will miss them. Mostly, I'll miss the people.

Ok, I drive out tomorrow. I will blog as much as possible on the road. Send me good avoiding accidents and police juju. We all know I drive too fast.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Joy of Insurance

As we all rationally know, moving and separation generate a metric fuckton of busywork. I rationally knew that too, but I am still surprised by its sheer magnitude in one particular area: phone calls to companies. In the last two months, I have called the gas company, electric company, Verizon (which warranted its own post and has since necessitated further phone calls), Toyota Financial Services, Chase bank, and a few others. I have heard a year's worth of bad hold music and talked to countless cheery women with generic phone voices. Most of them have been very nice; all of them have been incredibly accommodating as soon as I drop the "separation" bomb. Most of the phone calls don't deserve posts, but this morning, I feel like passing on my experience with the USAA insurance people.

USAA is for military people and their families. I am an actor who would never even dream of joining the armed forces, so I really shouldn't have access to the cheap insurance they offer. However, my grandpa was in the Navy, so he had it. My grandpa had it, so my mom had it. My mom had it, so I have it. Anyway, my car and renter's insurance are through them, which put them on my long list of companies to call.

I tried to do what I needed online when I was uncaffeinated and barely awake. Clearly, that was doomed to fail for multiple reasons, including the fact that it is impossible to do what I needed to do on the website (make myself the only the person on the auto policy). So, I called the 800 number at 9-ish and jumped through their automated hoops only to be told that the office is closed. Ok, that's confusing. It's 9 am on a Friday. Why would they be closed? The little automated message didn't explain, so it was back to the website for investigation time.

Turns out, the office is open 7am-7pm based on the area code of the phone from which you're dialing. I've had the same cell phone number since I was 18 and lived in the 310 area code of California. Therefore, it didn't matter that it was 9 here in Virginia because it was 6 to my phone. Great. Now, I've got an hour to kill...

Enter a cup of coffee, lemon poppyseed muffin, and reruns of NewsRadio on Netflix instant. Ok, hour killed. I called back at 9:58, figuring the automated hoops would take 2 minutes. They took a minute and a half, and I was told the office was closed again. Really? I murmured at the phone about how 30 seconds was hardly worth making me call again and redialed. This time, I actually got through to someone, told them the whole issue, and was transferred to a "specialist". Here's the thing I love about USAA: when an operator transfers you to someone else, they actually tell the next person what your situation is so that the customer doesn't have to launch into the same story over and over. That right there is customer service.

The "specialist" told me that she'd do all the insurance stuff with me and then transfer me to a financial adviser who would discuss my "life change" with me and make sure I'd thought of everything. I'm kind of a detail-oriented person, so I wasn't sure that was needed but I figured I'd go with it. The actual insurance policy stuff was pretty simple. The "specialist" was friendly and made some jokes. Then, we got to the stupid part: the premium change. I know that Southern California has more weird driving situations and more car theft than rural Virginia. I know I've only been driving for a year, and Jer's been driving way longer. I know there are multiple reasons that my premium was going to go up. I did not expect my premium to double.

Really? Double? Not cool man. Not freakin' cool, but whatever, I'm not in a position to do much about it. I just have to deal. I restrained myself from saying any obscenities aloud to the nice lady, reminded myself that it wasn't her fault, and let myself get transferred to the financial adviser. This part was the most entertaining. I knew that I had my ducks in a row as much as I could. I have a small savings, no student loans, a place to live, and a job that should pay the bills even if it doesn't let me save. Bring it, Lady. Ask me your questions. I'm all over this.

This woman was also nice and clearly expected to have to help me through my "life change" which she understood was a "difficult time." This is the great thing about all these phone calls. Everyone thinks I'm all super delicate and bends over backwards to help me. It's like they think I make these phone calls at the precise moments when I am least stable. I don't know about how most people do it, but I only engage with strangers when I'm doing pretty all right. She asked me a series of questions about moving, work, housing, debt, legal paperwork, what my plans are for the next year, etc and was surprised when I had the "right" answer for pretty much everything. It only took about 2 minutes for her to realize that she could do nothing for me.

So, there I was 25 minutes later and finally off the phone. I think (and don't quote me on this) that I may be done with these phone calls. Of course, I might need to call Verizon again. I think they may be charging my credit card for internet still even though we changed it to Jer's card over a month ago. Oh man, I totally hate Verizon. Also not a fan of the metric fuckton of busywork. In other news, the packing is nearly done... 5 days. So surreal.